Man who killed Pitt student in 2017 will get hearing on effectiveness of former attorney

PITTSBURGH — A man who pleaded guilty to killing a University of Pittsburgh student to avoid a possible death penalty will get a hearing to try to prove his attorney was ineffective.

According to our partners at TribLive.com, Pennsylvania’s Superior Court ruled Monday in favor of 25-year-old Matthew Darby.

He pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in 2018 for the death of 20-year-old Alina Sheykhet, who he had previously dated.

Darby was sentenced to serve life in prison without parole in exchange for his plea.

Sheykhet, a 2015 graduate of Montour High School, was found in the bedroom of her Cable Place apartment by her parents in October 2017.

Darby broke into her apartment two weeks earlier, and she obtained a protection-from-abuse order against him.

Police say that early on Oct. 8, 2017, Darby went against the order, and broke in again and killed Sheykhet. Investigators recovered two knives and a hammer that were used in the attack from a sewer near the crime scene, after using surveillance video from the area.

Prosecutors sought the death penalty against Darby because he was the subject of a protection order, that Sheykhet was a prosecution witness against him, and his history of felony convictions using violence.

He agreed to plead guilty to first-degree murder in exchange for removing the chance of the death penalty.

A year later, and with new counsel, Darby filed a post-conviction petition arguing ineffective assistance of counsel.

He said his attorney at the time, Thomas Farrell, failed to explain or do a proper analysis of risk on the case.

Allegheny County District Attorney’s office responded, and said that Darby’s claims would not succeed, but agreed that a hearing might be necessary. The decision is not based on potential merit for his claim, but on precedent.

The original judge assigned to the desk, Judge Jeffrey Manning, ordered that a hearing be held on Darby’s claims. The case was reassigned to Judge Edward Borkowski after Manning went on medical leave. Borkowski dismissed Darby’s petition without a hearing last February.

Darby appealed the decision, and the state Superior Court said that Borkowski was required to hold the hearing Manning ordered.

“This defendant pleaded guilty to a brutal crime that he obviously committed, and we are confident of our position pending the hearing,” said Mike Manko, a spokesperson for the District Attorney’s office, saying the office would not appeal the decision.

Darby’s new lawyer, Joseph Hudak, disagreed. He says that Darby’s lawyers should not have led him to a first-degree murder plea.

“This is the first step in taking back Darby’s life sentence,” Hudak said. “I think Darby has been totally mischaracterized, and I believe Darby is guilty at the most of third-degree murder. And a jury might find him guilty of voluntary manslaughter. I don’t believe the evidence ever supported a death penalty verdict, and there was so much mitigation, I don’t think he would have received the death penalty anyway.”

The Sheykhet family attorney, Robert DelGreco, says that the Superior Court opinion does not rule on the substance of Darby’s claims of ineffective counsel.

“The Sheykhet family believes that Mr. Darby’s motion is meritless and expects his guilty plea to remain intact, along with his sentence of life imprisonment,” he said.

Stay with Channel 11 News as we continue to follow this developing story.